A REGULAR user of an on-demand bus has said the service has changed her life and provided her with freedom for the first time in 14 years.

Chrissie, a Hartlepool resident who uses the Tees Flex bus regularly with her guide dog, Bridget, has been using the service for essentials such as going shopping, collecting prescriptions and attending medical appointments.

Despite the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic, the service has offered a vital lifeline to help keep the region’s most isolated communities connected with essential services, making more than 45,000 journeys in its first year of operation.

Chrissie said: “The service is clean and safe and the new vehicles are lovely. The Tees Flex drivers are extremely kind too, picking me up and dropping me off in all manner of unusual places.

"It is no exaggeration to say that they have changed my life and are a now a regular part of it, which is so important with having no relatives in the area. They have even offered to drop groceries off for me.

"Before lockdown, I used Tees Flex on a Saturday to go for a walk along the Headland for the first time in fourteen years! Tees Flex has given me that freedom back.”

Alan Lamb, a driver on the Tees Flex service, which operates across Darlington, Stockton, Hartlepool and Redcar said: “The first twelve months has been a great success and we’ve seen passenger numbers growing into a great set of regulars, with new customers giving the bus a try each day too.

“In the current climate, it’s a privilege to play an active role in the daily lives of our lovely customers, helping them to make important journeys and to maintain a sense of normality. For lots of residents, the service provides a lifeline that wasn’t there before and has created a real sense of community spirit.”

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said: “It’s fantastic to see Tees Flex having such a positive impact on local people, just one year into its pilot.

“Tees Flex is about keeping our rural communities connected and making sure that local people can get around the region easily and cheaply, whether that’s to access essential care and services, or simply to meet with friends and family when restrictions allow."